No, admiral, there's rock-solid science re naval sonar's danger to beaked whales

Today's AP featured a rather extraordinary claim by the United States Navy.  In a story about the particular vulnerability "beaked" whales (a kind of small toothed whale that encompasses about twenty different species) to naval sonar, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Robert F. Willard says:

"The frustration and challenge is that we are being asked to put mitigating procedures into place, or to not operate and restrict our freedom of operations, without any foundation whatsoever,"

photo of stranded beaked whales, Canary Islands, 2002 Clearly the Admiral needs a better briefing from his staff.  The fact is that there is now over a decade of scientific "foundation"--including multiple peer-reviewed articles in some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world--that show a clear association between the use of Naval sonar and the death and injury different kinds of whales--beaked whales most of all.  Indeed, the scientific information on this score is so powerful that a report by the Navy's own consultants stated that it is "completely convincing."  And, at a symposium at an International Whaling Convention meeting, more than 100 whale biologists concluded that the evidence associating beaked whale deaths and the use of navy sonar "is very convincing and appears overwhelming."  (To read a full NRDC report that gets into all this evidence in-depth, see here.)

As for those mitigation measures that the Navy is being asked to put in place--not just by NRDC, mind you, but by California Coastal Commission and others--they are designed to, you know, expose whales to less sound.  So let's review: (1) there is "overwhelming evidence" that the sound caused by naval sonar kills beaked whales; (2) the Navy is being asked to undertake measures to reduce the level of sound these animals are exposed to; but (3) there is not "any foundation whatsoever" for that request.  Right.

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Andrew Wetzler

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